Petition power in Sandbach has succeeded after campaigners managed to persuade Cheshire East Council to review its cemeteries strategy.
On Thursday a petition signed by almost 6,000 people was received by councillors during a meeting when they were told that asking people to visit cemeteries in Crewe and Macclesfield in future “is at best thoughtless and at worst inhumane”.
The Save Sandbach Cemetery Group was formed earlier this year calling on Cheshire East to reinstate a commitment to expand the grounds on The Hill into the adjacent Hassall Road playing fields, amid concerns that only eight years of burial space remained.
Campaign founder Ann Nevitt, supported by neighbours Philip Brooks and David Poole, presented the petition to members of the Environment and Communities Committee at Macclesfield Town Hall on Thursday.
Labour council leader, Coun Sam Corcoran, who represents Sandbach Heath and East, proposed that the current cemetery strategy be reviewed, which was supported unanimously by the committee.
Mrs Nevitt, who is to stand as a Conservative candidate at a forthcoming town council by-election in Sandbach’s Town Ward following the resignation of Coun Sue Aschombe-Hurt, had accused Coun Corcoran of giving no support to the campaign.
Mr Brooks explained to councillors: “We know the comfort that local residents get from being able to visit the cemetery, many on a daily basis – as we discovered when working on this petition.
“The existing policy, asking residents to go to Crewe and Macclesfield cemeteries in the future is at best thoughtless and at worst inhumane.”
David Poole, who collected 1,000 of the signatures, further explained: “People need to understand that the land next to the cemetery was first allocated back in 1934 and, as registered in 1999, is still identified as ‘cemetery’.
“We accept that the site has been temporarily used as a playing field until the land was required. That time has come.”
Campaigners are not asking for the removal of the children’s play area in the playing field, but that the “defunct” football pitch “be used for its original intended purpose of a cemetery extension”.
Conservative Coun Mike Benson, who represents Sandbach Town, presented the petition item to the committee under a new committee constitution that allows elected members to identify matters of strategic and policy importance and have them included on the appropriate committee agenda.
He said: “It’s been hard work navigating the new committee system as this is the first time an elected member has brought forward a new agenda item, but whilst initially I was aware of how important this matter was to our residents in Sandbach, it became apparent that it was equally important to other members and residents across the borough for reasons that that had not been current when the strategy was last designed. This is why I felt so strongly that a complete review was needed.”
Alsager resident and Conservative town councillor Sue Helliwell spoke to the committee about the cemetery situation in Alsager.
She said: “Alsager’s Christchurch graveyard is also nearing capacity. Interested stakeholders met with Cheshire East asking for support in identifying a new site in line with the Alsager Neighbourhood Plan.
“Our neighbourhood plan policies support initiatives that might bring forward additional graveyard capacity but, to date, Cheshire East has not engaged directly any further with us since 2019.”